Wearables for Kids: The Next Big Thing or a Scary Thought?

This blog was written by Brian Pitstick, a 17+ year marketing executive in the Fortune 500 technology market. He is currently a guest analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy where he writes about his passion for the emerging wearables market leveraging his strong background building innovative product solutions.  Brian was recently executive director at Dell corporation, where he headed up innovative and award winning consumer products like the Dell XPS 12/13/18,  Dell Inspiron Duo, and the Dell Streak 5.  You can find Brian’s biography here.

My 10 year old son Jack recently told me he wanted a get a Nike Fuelband thinking it was cool.  This got me to thinking.   Is having a digital leash on my son a good thing?  Should I be concerned with a device tracking my son’s activities?   After all, many parents already provide phones to kids today for the sole purpose of being a digital leash of sorts.

As I thought about it further, I came to conclusion that wearable devices will have huge potential when targeted for kid use and to parents.  Of course, these technologies need to be treated responsibly and security and privacy of the kids is paramount.  However, new technologies can be used for helping aid (not replace) good parenting and incenting the behaviors you want in your children.

As parent, my wife and I are constantly concerned with the safety and well-being of our kids.  The world seems more complex and dangerous than when we were kids.   Kids today are presented with many new technologies that create new challenges for parents.  Like many parents I talk with, new technologies like tablets, phones, game consoles, etc are blessings to provide entertainment when you need it, but present major concerns around creating sedimentary kids who never get outside and just run a round.  I know I sound old when I say this (I am becoming my father), but kids just need to go out a play more like we did when we were young.  Sure this is about parenting and providing limits to your kids.  My wife and I lead an active lifestyle and eat healthy to set a good example for our kids.  We also closely monitor kid’s activities and limit their technology entertainment.  This is tough work and not always fool-proof.   It is also met with resistance at times as these forms are highly addictive and there is ton of influence by peers.  Technology has the opportunity to help make this easier and make it fun for the kids.

Technology gaming start-up Chroma.io which came out of the Nike+ Fuel Lab accelerator program, is looking to create games like Jumpbot where Nike+ Fuelband activity (Nike Fuel) provides credits for in-store purchases incenting more activity.  Amazon has created a platform for their Kindle Fire line of tablets that helps parents set limits on gaming time and provide encouragement for reading.  These are both interesting new innovative solutions for parents.  What if you combined the 2 ideas?  I can imagine a solution that allows parents to set movement/activity goals for kids with the reward being credits toward playing games for certain time amounts (30min, 1hr, etc).  With awards and recognition and ability to track their progress, this could also be fun for the kids.  Kids love getting awards and recognition for achievement.  Making it digital only makes it easier for parents to facilitate, track, and manage.

Child safety is another interesting opportunity for wearables.  Start-up FiLIP has recently announced a new smartwatch designed for kids.  This device created in partnership with AT&T provides monitoring of a child’s location through sophisticated GPS technologies, voice calling, and an emergency button.  This is great concept.  A number of parents are already creating this type of solution by giving their kids a cell phone and using the phone locator capabilities.  However, these devices are not tailored to the unique needs of this use case and are expensive.  Phones can easily be lost when the kids are out playing so a watch is much better form factor.  A phone also has much broader use and most parents want to limit data access for cost or safety purposes.  FiLIP provides this plus allows parents to enable calls to numbers only they allow.  Another company Beluvv has announced a simple GPS enabled $25 smartwatch called Guardian with simple goal of tracking kids.  I could see this evolving to include activity tracking to incent active movement by kids.

On a final note, wearable sensors have potential to help parents with infants.  Baby monitors are a top purchase by parents wanting make sure their child is okay when they are sleeping.  A sensor in a child’s garment that monitors skin temperature, rollover, breathing, heartbeat, etc can provide added tools to parents to provide the safety they seek.  There are a few companies already exploring these concepts.  Health technology company mc10 Inc. has shown a flexible sensor solution on a baby’s pajamas for monitoring their heartbeat while sleeping.  Another company BabyWatch has announced a health-tracking teddy bear.  I fully expect many more concepts like this will emerge based on the power technology and ability to provide piece of mind to parents.

Kid targeted wearable devices will have lots of potential and I believe this will be great area for innovation in the coming years.  If designed with right controls and safety, they present a powerful tool to help parents be better parents.  They will never be a substitute though parenting and being actively involved with your kids.

So, I plan to buy Jack a Fuelband, but plan to be involved with him as he uses it.  What do you think?

If you have an opinion on this article, please drop me a comment or follow me @bpitstick.